Review Summary: Not the album you’d want to listen to if the end of the world was near.
Let’s be honest… No matter how well it may be performed, synth-core is a style of music which will always have its detractors. Whether you want to call it electronicore, screamocore, crabcore or crab chowder, it is a genre difficult not to make fun of due to its over the top characteristics, dubious artistic merit, and perception that it is a gimmicky fad that won’t even outlast nu-metal. While young Michigan sextet I See Stars did not exactly make cynics eat their words with debut LP ‘3-D’, their combination of metalcore drumming, synth-heavy breakdowns and dual clean & screaming vocals did make a few briefly re-think their stance on the sound’s potential. To that extent, the band’s follow-up release was always going to be interesting and, dare I say, even important.
The lead single and title track begins ‘The End of the World Party’ as you would expect… Spacey synths, pounding drums and Zach Johnson’s growling screams sandwich Devin Oliver’s catchy clean vocals, which contain an acceptable amount of auto-tune considering the theme of the track (an outer space party marking the end of the world!). This album highlight may be simply structured, but it contains - and nicely refines - all of the elements which fans of ‘3-D’ enjoyed. As soon as what appears to be Owl City’s ‘Fireflies’ (read: track 2 ‘Over It’) begins however, it is clear that this album will be anything but ‘3-D Part 2’. The simple, but soaring, guitars of the following ‘Still Not Quite Enough’ (which just happens to carry a disconcertingly Owl City like spoken word bridge), all but confirm the pop-punk leanings which are to follow.
Even though only 4 of the 11 tracks are completely devoid of screaming, it is clear that Johnson’s growling vocals have been markedly toned down to only complement the melodic cleans this time around. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad decision, however the subsequent greater reliance on Oliver results in an overdose of mind-numbing auto-tune, reducing the effectiveness of even the better songs here. Likely to be the album’s barometer, the triumvirate of tracks which make up the mid-section of the LP ups the pitch correction technology to ridiculous levels, dumbs down the lyrics to the point where anybody out of high school will feel physically ill, and pumps the catchiness levels with enough sugar to fuel a candy store for a year. ‘Home for the Weekend’ is just plain awful, but both ‘It Will Be Up (High School Never Ends)’ and ‘Upside Down’ are infuriatingly infectious, no matter how much you want to hate them.
In striving a for a more accessible sound, I See Stars have purposefully reduced the extreme components which got them initially noticed. In addition to the screaming being pared down, the use of synth also seems a little stilted. The spacey effects hinted at early are not followed through on, while only ‘The Common Hours Part II’ allows any room for experimentation, with sounds ranging from video game like to a gothic metal vibe. The intended trade-off is clearly to infuse a poppier element via increased catchiness, and while that benefits tracks such as the sincere ‘When I Let You Down (Numb)’ & closer ‘Pop Rock & Roll’, it predominantly lands in between target audiences. ‘The End of the World Party’ does require a while for the change of approach to sink in, but ultimately has the same issue as its predecessor; it still feels like a gimmick that is decent in the moment, but lacks lasting value. Oh well, we should all look at the bright side and count ourselves lucky that Bizzy Bone does not reappear and contribute to another ‘worst song of the year’ contender!
Recommended Tracks: The End of the World Party, The Common Hours Part II & When I Let You Down (Numb).